BLACK DIAMOND, Alberta (VN) — Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) needed a break. Coming off his third Tour de France finish and a busy 71 racing days in the first half of the year, he was cooked, physically and mentally. Fun had given way to exhaustion.
Having recharged on the road and dirt near his Asheville, N.C., home, the 29-year-old rediscovered his smile while helping Tejay van Garderen win last month’s USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. The grin has lingered into this weekend at the inaugural Tour of Alberta, which sees him standing second on the general classification heading into Sunday’s final stage into Calgary.
Bookwalter just missed out on a stage win and the leader’s yellow jersey by losing at the line Friday to new leader Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp). But having fulfilled his role as a domestique for van Garderen and Cadel Evans at various times this season, he’s now only 18 seconds off Dennis’ lead and could finish on a final podium for only the second time in his career.
Exhaustion has given way to enjoyment again.
“Coming into this race I mainly just tried to have an open mind and be mentally fresh,” he told VeloNews. “This late in the season I think it’s important to have some fun.”
The first few months of the season were more of a blur. After he finished second to Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) at the Tour of Qatar in February, he spent the next several months squiring Evans and van Garderen — including helping the latter win the Amgen Tour of California — while trying to work onto his third Tour de France team.
“I started the year on the long list to do the Tour, but it looked like a real long shot. We start with 15 guys, and I was maybe number 15 or 14 and we only take nine,” he said. “So the first half of the year was really heavy. When you go about getting on the team that way it has a high mental toll. Each selection, each round you pass is another sort of pressure circumstance that you get to.
“It’s pretty much head down the whole spring, and then I made the Tour selection, and that’s the most demanding three weeks of the whole season, which I got through again.”
Not without consequence. He left France with an upper respiratory problem and headed home to heal in more ways than physical.
“I did some soul rides up on the Blue Ridge Parkway by myself, which do me a lot of good,” he said. And “I did a fair bit of mountain biking. That’s kind of where I came from, my cycling background and my roots. It’s kind of like free miles for me. I’m out there on the bike in a great atmosphere, and it’s not taking a big mental toll, but it still tunes you up physically.”
That led into the USA Pro Challenge, which saw BMC win two stages, van Garderen take the overall and Bookwalter enjoy himself as much as any time he could recall.
“It was one of those races that I really didn’t want to end, and you can’t say that about many races, he said. “You’re really enjoying it out there with your bros, just having a good time and kicking butt. That helped me a lot going into this week, reinvigorating me and rejuvenating me and making me excited to race again.”
BMC was almost spot-on when winds smashed the race apart Friday, putting four of its eight riders into an 18-man break and then having Bookwalter and teammate Steve Morabito in the final six.
“The boys were awesome. We kind of went into yesterday with the game plan making the call out on the road about the wind,” he said. “But we didn’t even have to talk amongst each other. We just saw the conditions and read the wind. It’s an honor and privilege to ride with a group of guys like that.”
And once again fun. Lots of fun.